A six-hour back-breaking, topsy-turvy drive from Vadodara brings us to Saputara, a tiny hill station, also the only one Gujarat can boast of. First impression: Beautiful stretches of richly green foliage reach out to the sky in an attempt to break free from the crowded grounds of the little plateau. It’s a quiet piece of haven that almost suddenly emerges from Gujarat’s otherwise rugged topography. It fits perfectly into the quintessential imagery that pops up as soon as we think of hills—endless greens, calm surroundings, long winding treks, picturesque dawn et al. But upon a close examination, Saputara doesn’t quite match Gujarat Tourism’s ambitious portrayal of the destination as the glorious land of culture, creativity and craft.
Saputara, which means a habitat of snakes, is located on the Sahyadri range at an altitude of 1,000 metres in the Dang district, about a reasonable four km away from Maharashtra borders. Its annual Monsoon Festival—organised last year from August 12 to September 10 which we witnessed—is an attempt by the state tourism board to put the sleepy hill station on the map.
The jamboree features magic shows, cultural performances, local food carts, exhibitions, adventure activities, small markets selling trinkets, a pay-per-play carnival of games and a small amusement park.
The festival has come to become a self-sufficient ecosystem for the local economy to flourish. Men and women look forward to setting up stalls to sell local, hand-made or hand-collected produce. The novelty of Saputara is that big fast food and lifestyle brands haven’t yet entered its localised systems.
The charming hill station thrives on everything that the communities within it can offer—be it food or lifestyle-related goods. According to official sources, over 2.5 lakh tourists visited the Saputara Monsoon Festival in 2015-16, generating a revenue of `13.19 crore for the local economy.Dotted along the sides of the streets are vendors with raw mango slices, sweet corn, dhokla, roasted or spiced peanuts and other little bites. In the surrounding vicinity, you have tribal women selling bamboo products, including bamboo pickles, raisins, salted peanuts, indigenous fruits, handmade toys, jewellery and clothes—all at a fraction of the price those are available at in cities.
Scattered across its length and breadth are tourist spots such as the artist’s village that displays tribal art and artefacts, the tribal museum which is rather ill-kept but has interesting keeps such as recreations of traditional dwellings, utensils, bamboo goods, jewellery, stuffed birds, earthenware among other things. There is also a small honeybee centre with fresh honey bottles. Having said that, Saputara will still need a lot more planning, imagination and financial strength to achieve the numbers it aspires for.
If you don’t limit yourself to just the monsoon festival, you’ll be better off. Going with moderate expectations will go a long way in helping you appreciate the smaller joys of life. Don’t expect opulent hotels, state-of-the-art facilities, exemplary hospitality, quick transportation or too many modern amenities. While there are a few privately owned hotels, the government is in the process of developing its accommodation under the name of Toran Hill Resort. Service is moody and food options are conservative.
Things you can expect in abundance from this place are verdant views that reach the horizon of the sprawling blue sky. For the best view of Saputara, climb atop the two hills further ahead of the base of Governor’s Hill, that in season time is a commercial place with food stalls, handicraft shops, activities, including horse, camel and motor bike riding, zip lining etc. A moderately difficult trek along the road brings you to what we’re talking about. A 30-minute hike up the first hill gradually introduces you to different gradations of Saputara’s geographic infiniteness.
As soon as you arrive, clusters of clouds begin to kiss the yellow-orange glimmer of the resplendent horizon. This is also the moment you realise there is more to Gujarat than the gregarious Asiatic Lions, the sublime Sabarmati Ashram and the multi-hued Rann Utsav.Saputara is good for a short getaway, ideal for people from Nagpur, Pune, Mumbai and Nashik. It brings you patience and a general sense of well being, before you shift gears back on to the fast track.
By road: Ahmedabad: 409 km. Surat: 164 km. Mumbai: 250 km. Vadodara: 309 km. There are state transport buses and private coaches.
By rail: Waghai is the nearest railway station. For visitors from Surat, Ahmedabad and Mumbai, it’s Billimora.
By air: Vadodara is 309 km away.
Best time to visit: August-February